The Incongruity of Everything in a Humbled Nation

A new Twilight Zone episode is in production and we’re all cast members. It’s working title is “Flattening the Curve.” No one yet knows how it ends.

This would be comical if the Coronavirus wasn’t so devastating. And while many books have been written about pandemics (imagined and real) many aspects of this one are things you just can’t make up.

An ad for a cruise line followed news that cruise lines were shutting down. Ads for restaurants were quickly changing to happy people eating takeout. Panera Bread has an ad showing a mad crowd racing to get there for a free refill. An Otezla ad showed people on a cruise shaking hands. Applebee’s special on boneless wings was “dine in only.” Ads like these were probably shown because they were already in the queue.

Is it a coincidence that we’re in the midst of Lent, a time of personal reflection and self-sacrifice? People are praying. A lot. Passover is also close at hand. It’s tempting to spread lamb’s blood over the front door to keep the virus away. The many miracle cures out there include drinking bleach, using a special toothpaste and eating garlic. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls this misinformation an “infodemic.”

The president and staff shook hands and rubbed their noses at a news conference that included telling us not to do those very things. I admit, I’d have to tie my arms to my sides to not rub an itchy eye or nose. It’s impossible not to.

Ads for investment advice seem out of place with the stock market crashing. It’s a great time to buy stocks but with what money? Mine was already in stocks. News stories about how job openings spiked in January are ancient history. Unemployment is skyrocketing as businesses are forced to close. Buying that new car might need to move down the list for awhile. Hand washing becomes hand wringing.

With bars and restaurants closed, liquor stores are busy. Virtual party anyone? Church services are only on the internet. Funerals are delayed. The Y is closed. Streets are eerily quiet. Hospitals planned for closure are suddenly much in need. Elective surgeries are postponed.

Amazon is hiring 100,000 new employees because of the huge increase in online shopping by people remaining at home. Congress is forced to work together. Some newspapers have created a new section devoted to the Coronavirus. The few sports stories are buried in shifting locations since they’re mostly about player trades and which athletes have the virus.

Many states have directed residents to shelter in place. In some states almost nothing has been done. I’m within the age range most at risk. We are told to stay home. That’s easy for me since I’m retired. So I don’t feel the impact of this as working age people do. I hope families stuck at home can get some bonding time that has been in short supply in this busy world. But staying indoors at home is something we’re used to in our climate. Just don’t let this extend into our precious summer.

It’s hard to know what to do at a time like this but I felt like I should do something. So I did the scariest thing I could think of. I got a haircut. I got it cut extra short in case I don’t get back in for awhile. The next day all salons and barbershops were ordered closed. Catherine and I went to Target for a few provisions and to see the empty toilet paper shelf, a visual attraction at many stores. A shopper joked that the real reason people need lots of toilet paper is because whenever someone coughs, 10 people soil themselves.

What worries me long-term is what today’s young people are learning from this. Many (including my 27-year-old son) think this is not that big a deal, that it’s overblown. Uh-oh.

This is like a succession of snowstorms that force you to stay home, without the shoveling. Nothing is normal anymore. We are all painfully aware of that. The new normal is still evolving. Some things will be forever changed. Some businesses will close forever. The way we live will change. We will learn what is important and what is not.

Much will have changed by the time you read this but one thing that must not change is our appreciation of anyone on the front lines of this including health care workers, first responders, checkout clerks, pharmacy employees and all the others on the front lines.

If we did nothing we would get over this sooner. But the plotted curve of cases would rise well beyond what hospitals can accommodate, resulting in many more unnecessary deaths. Yet some are suggesting that the economy is more important than stopping the virus spread and flattening that curve.

We’re now a humbled nation in a costly war we must not lose. This isn’t the Bubonic plague or Spanish flu. We’re much advanced from how poorly they were handled. We need to do our part to flatten the curve. Stay six feet apart or you or someone you were near might end up six feet under.

Your role in this Twilight Zone episode is to just stay home and see how it ends. Then its title might be “The Virus That Rebuilt America.”

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